Eternally Stagnant Recruitment and Some Ideas to Overcome It

Roman ruins (photo - F. Tavares)Recruiting never seems to change very much. As I have often written, even with computers, smart phones, cheap video, big bandwidth, and years of accumulated experience, the way we look for people and select them looks very much the same as it looked 50 years ago.

The question is: why haven’t these tools and technologies made any significant difference?

If we look at other professions, it is clear that technology is not what makes the real difference. Take building as an example. Using only primitive hand tools, carpenters and masons from Roman times on crafted buildings that are enduring and emulated. The construction methods they used are studied and copied, while their tools gather dust in museums. Chinese accountants used abacuses to keep their books and sailors had glorified rowboats to explore the world’s oceans. It turns out that knowing how to do something is a far more critical skill than what tools are used to do it. Tools do not cause change and transformation, but methods and processes do.

The skills involved in building, accounting, or sailing are what make the difference between success and failure and often between life and death. Those who have improved the methods of building — the ones who figured out how to build skyscrapers and elevators — have contributed more to our progress than have the tools they used.

Technology saves labor and time and often lets us do things we could not do with our own muscles or brains, but it is not a substitute for core knowledge or for understanding how to do something or for human behavior.

And that is most likely why recruiting has not changed. While recruiters have many new tools, they are using traditional processes and methods without much innovation. This is most likely because, despite the hype about a talent shortage, there is really not a major problem finding talented people. If fact, most recruiters would be bored if their job became too easy — and many enjoy the hunt. Innovation usually occurs when there is an unsolvable problem or a major problem or a crisis, and recruiting has yet to run into any of those.

But what could be is still interesting. What would an efficient, updated recruiting process look like? Here are a few ideas that I think might work.

If anyone has already tried them or plans on giving them a try, I would like to hear from you in the comments section.

Idea 1: Stop any branding activities and focus totally on referrals. If you are in a nationwide or global firm with a known reputation, branding is a secondary concern. You already attract people because of your product or service brand and most likely have a pipeline of good candidates. Whenever you have an opening, just let employees know and ask them to use their networks to bring in any additional people you might need.

Referrals are free, fast, and effective. Incentives are not really needed and may actually cause employees to reach out to less-than-optimal candidates in the chance of getting whatever reward your offer. Instead give the employees who refer the best candidates, whether they are hired or not, a title such as “Preferred Referrer” or “Trusted Referrer,” and give anyone they refer priority consideration. This will incentivize others to become a titled referrer and raise the bar on the type of candidates you get.

Idea 2: Use online assessments and reduce interviews. Forget screening interviews, meet and greets, and extensive resume reviews. Instead invest in developing one or two screening tests that can be given online, are scored instantly, and provide both you and the candidate with feedback.

These kinds of screening tools can reduce your workload, improve the candidate experience, and result in much better candidates. The challenge is to develop the right tests that actually screen for the characteristics that are important for the job or for the organization.

There may need to be several tests for different positions or levels, but none of this is more costly or time-consuming than endless phone screens and interviews. I would go so far as to say that recruiters should never interview anyone in person. By implementing online screening and eliminating face-to-face interviews, you could potentially expect a recruiter to handle 20-50% more open requisitions.

There are many firms who can do this for reasonable costs, and the online testing and screening business is growing rapidly. Charles Handler, one of the other writers on ERE, has just released a book cataloging and commenting on most testing services available today.

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Idea 3: Use video interviews heavily. Video interviews are a powerful and effective way to do more with less and improve legal compliance.

Video interviews are no longer taboo, and many candidates find them much more effective and less stressful than face-to-face interviews. Face-to-face interviews are expensive and time consuming and most of the time lead nowhere. Probably 75% of all interviews do not lead to an offer because of poor screening and poor candidate qualification. By conducting one live interview that is recorded, many people can view the same interview and evaluate the same responses. This leads to consistency, the lack of which is the greatest legal issue with multi-person, live interviews. By recoding the interview, there is proof that the interviews were done legally and that no discrimination occurred.

Idea 4: Train recruiters and hiring managers thoroughly on closing candidates. Make sure every recruiter and as many hiring managers as possible know how to identify potential acceptance issues and how to overcome objections.

Most acceptance failures are because someone — a recruiter or a hiring manager — did not pick up on signs that a candidate had reservations or issues that would be difficult to overcome: perhaps a reluctant spouse, a nagging doubt about the organization or the project, a desire to stay at their current employer, and so on.

It takes practice and training to notice these things and many recruiters are not well trained to not only notice the potential problem, but to deal with it. I often recommend that recruiters take a traditional sales training class where these skills are and the methods to overcome them are taught.

Idea 5: Communicate with mobile technology and via social mediaGetting feedback to candidates regularly and fast is one of the ways to differentiate your organization from other and to get first-mover advantage with a candidate.

Most candidates today are more than willing to receive feedback and updates via their Facebook, LinkedIn, or other accounts. Email is fine, but experiment with other methods that cut down the time you spend and get the word out faster. Hiring managers should consider interviewing candidates using Skype or other tools. You could develop a mobile app to provide feedback or updates.

There are probably at least a dozen more ideas that you could try that would lower costs, improve speed, and provide higher quality candidates. But, then again, by doing it the way we always have, we ensure job security — for a while.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


9 Comments on “Eternally Stagnant Recruitment and Some Ideas to Overcome It

  1. Totally agree with your article, the sector needs innovation. We are a company in Barcelona in the process of developing competency measuring tools. The idea is to to get to the core values and abilities of the candidate and educate both sides in paying close attention to this aspect of an individuals profile, rather than simply a CV. Our website is live now, we’re currently running in beta. Feedback would be welcome.

  2. Kevin,Thoughtful comments and, as always the case with your articles, I agree with almost everything (unusual for me). I think you are downplaying technology a bit, but that might have more to do with my sense of what technology being broader.

    The really key thing – you won’t be surprised that I say this – is to use assessments. This is not only to reduce interviews, as worthy a goal as that is, but to guide and structure the entire recruitment process. Companies who do this well recruit better. Period. The evidence is compelling. And now we can do this much more easily, cost-effectively and at scale than ever before (thanks, if you don’t mind, to technology). Science is the answer to so many things and certainly – since it’s already proved – it is the answer to unsatisfactory recruiting. Use science, because it’s best. May 2012 see real breakthrough in using assessments.

  3. Thanks, Kevin. Would the assessment tests be used instead of the interview component to determine competency? So, the organization would then have:
    1) An assessment test
    2) Organizational fit interview?
    What’s the best way get a candidate to quickly apply upfront and then be contacted (after *pre-assessment) for the assessment test if suitable? I can’t imagine many potential candidates performing a lengthy assessment unless the organization has indicated a fair amount of interest.
    Remember the 90 Second Rule:
    “No more than 90 seconds for a potential candidate to find the job they want, and no more than 90 seconds more for them to apply to it”.


    *How much of that can be automated/outsourced?

  4. Hi Kevin,

    I agree that a good dose of innovation is needed. I see many staffing organizations focusing on operational efficiency, which certainly makes sense in the recent economy when costs are a concern and hiring requirements are lower.

    One concern I have with this (and I think it’s symptomatic of a broader problem) is that we are optimizing for a specific kind of hiring focused on left-brain-dominant talent (the work of whom, for right or wrong, can be outsourced). Some of these things would be a huge turn-off for more creative folks (and I’m not just talking about marketing, but how people think).

    I think that all of the methods you mention can have a place in an effective staffing strategy. But developing a mobile app to provide feedback? That’s expensive! And while it probably qualifies as “cool”, it may fall more into the branding category you recommend companies de-fund. At the point at which you are providing feedback, the fact that you are giving feedback at all is the important thing. If it’s post-interview, then it should be over the phone. You shouldn’t break up with a candidate by text…or mobile app.

    And I (perhaps obviously) think that social media is a huge opportunity, but where I think many organizations struggle is using it to address a real business objective. They begin with the solution and march forward without adequately defining the problem. Innovation for the sake of innovation can be a branding strategy, but is often misguided, IMHO.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. It got my brain moving after the holiday break.

  5. My personally created recruiting process is one that I have never seen anyone aside from myself use and it works like gold! I have proven results time and time again. I really don’t want to share too much!

    The approach I take was partially developed from my personal experience as a Wall Street analyst/advisor. In this role I presented company’s (stocks) to new prospective accredited investors (buyers). Several factors must be considered when investing in and buying stocks of all different size companies. Risk versus reward and career growth opportunity is always of interest to a candidate right?

    Who does not want to work for a company that is on the rise or for that matter that is stable and offers security? If the candidate buys into your presentation before you delve into their experience and resume then you have a candidate that most likely already wants the job before they even move forward.

    Most recruiters keep the initial focus on understanding the candidate’s background and experience thoroughly before they go onto talking a little about their company and the open position. The thinking is that they don’t want to waste time with a candidate if they are not a good fit for the position. So the typical recruiter will qualify the candidate on location, travel, salary etc.. And then usually go right into asking questions about their experience and dates for example: “so why did you leave here”. With this convenient approach the recruiter can then decide to tell the candidate more about their company and the position and then set up next steps if agreed to. The problem with this approach is twofold in my opinion. One, the candidate might feel good about moving forward and having had a through interview but now they have to wait to learn more about the hiring company or do their own research to find out details. With this approach you are then allowing the candidate to create their own perception on whether or not they should buy this stock. As a stock advisor, when we had a company that was such a great buying opportunity, it was our job to make sure we shared all of the positive news and spoke about the upside potential and also talked about some of the bad things but put a positive spin on them If a recruiter knows what they are looking for then they should know from the resume if the candidate is qualified with the hard skills needed. With that being said, I recommend you approach each and every candidate you choose to speak with, from a little different angle, get the buy in from the candidate and have them wanting to tell you everything about themselves after they are sooooo excited about this opportunity and your company. You have just created the interest and excitement from the word go and now “you” have the choice to hire whoever you want and often a candidate will accept an offer for several dollars lower than they were initially seeking because of the great upside potential. With this approach every candidate will have the chance to pop the hood and kick the tires off and look underneath your car (company) before you ask them to let you look underneath their hood. This process actually becomes the beginning of your soft skills assessment because you can listen to how they respond to your presentation of your company and the opportunity.

    The candidate now feels as though this is a special experience and a different experience. At this point you can let them know and actually kind of apologize for taking so much time to explain the details about your company and the position. Say something like this after giving your presentation – “Are you with me? I know I am giving you a lot of information, however, I feel it is really important for you to understand everything about our company before I take more of your time to understand your background and experience at a deeper level. From what I have explained to you up to this point, does this seem like something that you would be interested in moving forward with?” At this point it’s like cutting through warm butter to get all of the details you want from the candidate and if you keep sprinkling in tidbits from their experience to make them really think this is the perfect match for them then you have the complete upper hand and from here on in they will give you whatever you want because they really want this gig. My focus on the phone interview is more to gain the initial basic qualification and an understating of their soft skills. Qualifying their hard skills takes too much time to do verbally and you don’t get a written sample. The deeper level hard skills assessment is performed by sending the candidate an follow on email with some info on your company and also a follow on detailed work experience assessment (questionnaire) to focus more on specific experience they need which is relevant to the position. I really don’t want to give away too many secrets but if you want to talk more than feel free to reach me on linked in – Greg Koutsis – My first book will be coming out in a year! “If the majority was right the majority would be rich”.

  6. Greg that was a cogent, possibly even brilliant comment.
    “Buy This Stock” gets to the core of WHY recruiting has not really changed and will NEVER really change.

    Switching tribes is primal- it’s THE highest stake sale (buying a house or car is trivial in comparison), and it has been the same since the dawn of humanity. We are hard-wired to do it in certain ways at certain times, and when we are thinking about it, we take a darn good look at our potential new tribe, and they take a darn good look at us, and no technology will ever really mediate that essential requirement, although technology can dramatically reduce the friction needed to get those looks on both sides.

    In many cases, the ability to DO the job is already a given by the time a serious interviewing process gets underway, especially in higher stakes roles, where we use words like “fit” and “culture” to describe the concept of switching tribes.

    Kevin’s notion that you can just train hiring managers and “recruiters” to close is almost touching in its naiveté.

    Firstly, if you can’t close, you are not a real recruiter, you are a merely a hiring clerk. Secondly, you simply can’t be taught to close- you either have the knack or you don’t- ask anyone who has ever owned a recruiting firm or led a sales force or tried to score on Spring break.

    The closest parallel probably is in choosing a mate or even just hooking up: technology has cut the friction, but the dance is eternal, and in that, Kevin used exactly the right word in the title of this piece.

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